Funding a Quest: Tuition hike to further strategic plan

Originally published July 01, 2013 in The Commonwealth Times.

Liz Butterfield
Online News Editor

Rising tuition costs and a change in the tuition pricing model for new students may not be enough to cover all of VCU’s financial needs this year, but it’s a start, according to Beverly Warren, provost and vice president for academic affairs at VCU.

Beginning this fall, current students will pay roughly 4 percent more for tuition, about an extra $414 a year, while out-of-state students will pay about $950 more.

Additionally, VCU will no longer use the flat-rate tuition model that current students enjoy. Instead, incoming freshmen and transfer students will pay per-credit for the courses they enroll in.

The new plan will also include a 50 percent reduction in price per-credit if students choose to take 15 credits or more.

These changes reflect a long-standing battle with budget difficulties as the university struggles to balance reduced income from the state with increasing expenditures. VCU remains $52 million behind the 2008 levels in state funding, according to university president Michael Rao.

“In order to meet the goals outlined in our strategic plan, Quest for Distinction, we need to ensure that our resources, including our financial resources, are appropriate for a national research university and aligned with our well-reasoned strategic needs,” Rao said in an update to students.

University spokesperson Pamela Lepley wrote in an email that “there are significant costs this year that VCU has no choice but to fund.” The university faces new costs like salary increases for faculty and staff, increasing health costs and growing operational and maintenance costs for new buildings, Lepley said.

Revenue from the tuition changes will be used to retain faculty, provide more financial aid for students and improve academic advising.

Potentially the most important change for some students is increased financial aid.

University-determined financial need, which would likely rise for some students with the new cost of tuition, is being given attention on a case-by-case basis for students, Warren said.

“With this change in tuition structure and tuition pricing we have more funding for financial need … the office will be able to address need with a higher amount than we’ve had in the past,” Warren said.

The actual amount of funding that will go to financial aid has not yet been determined by administrators.

Student advising is also a key focus to the administration’s goals this year, Warren said.
Since 2012, 14 new advisors have been added to the departments with the highest enrolled students. This year, reallocated resources along with the tuition hike will allow for more advising. The goal is to ensure that sufficient course sections are being offered for students who need them, Warren said.

Because 56 percent of students take six years to graduate, part of the administration’s mission is to add advisors and faculty so more students graduate sooner.

In addition to increasing staff in specific programs and schools, two new software programs have been implemented to help aid students in selecting the right courses and understanding where they stand in their progress at VCU.

DegreeWorks, which was introduced in the spring of 2013, allows students to virtually track their progress at the university with their course requirements. Another new program, Course Scheduler, will be introduced in the fall to help students develop their own scheduling scenarios prior to registration. Freshman advising will see no new changes.

Full-time faculty will also see changes in their paycheck this fall. For the first time in five years, university employees will get a raise. The state mandated a 3 percent increase in salaries for full-time faculty and staff at Virginia colleges and universities during the last General Assembly session.

However, the state will only cover a portion of the cost and the raises will cost the university more than $8 million to implement, Lepley said.

An additional $4 million will be used to hire and retain key faculty at VCU, Lepley said.
The university is also seeking funding from other sources, including private fundraising and entrepreneurial activities, Lepley said.

But even the scheduled changes will not be able to transform VCU in one year, Warren said.

“We will make significant progress toward where we need to be as a research institution that serves students (with these changes),” Warren said. “It is virtually impossible to accomplish the kind of change that we want to see in student support and student success and recruitment of faculty in one year … we think we’ll see a difference year by year.”


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